The Story of Jazz

January 13, 2017 § 1 Comment

james-carterJames Carter, just because he’s the prettiest

As some of you know, I’ve been dealing with a very sick kitty as well as the general post-apocalyptic, werewolves-in-the-street blues so it was nice to go to Birdland for a show titled The Story of Jazz with greats James Carter, Eric Alexander (dueling tenors!), Jon Faddis, Vincent Herring, Jeremy Pelt and many more. Starting in 1917, moving on through the years. Very smooth, lots of heart and just great, great music. Wish you could all go. It’s on through Saturday. Wish I hadn’t had a headache and we’d stayed for the second set.

Of course listening to music from 1917 (first jazz recording) with its long-ago rhythms can spark that nostalgia—what I was once so prone to, Paris in the 20s, the Village in the 1890s—before we were born, a world that seems more innocent because they do not know what we know, though it was nothing of the sort, boys dying by the millions because of the stupidity of men. A person I work with noted recently that it was the centenary of Wilfred Owens death (find a poem by him in my last entry), which it is not; he died in November 2018, but being reminded of that year–1917–does make me think of him and of Siegfried Sassoon: two poets who made me feel The Great War in a way even the famous novels of the era didn’t.

At Birdland, Charles was wearing his red “Make Racists Afraid Again” baseball cap and while we were waiting to be seated a staff person came over and started to say something, then looked closer and said, “Oh…I was going to ask you to take your hat off.”

“I’ll take my hat off.”

“No, I thought…it said something else. It’s fine, keep it on!”

I love New York, even if it did produce the piss-haired werewolf-in-chief, his rabid sons and iBlanka, who seems to have married her granddad, the original predatory landlord Woody Guthrie sang about in “Old Man Trump.” (Kushner’s management company has been publicizing his new East Village luxury condos—rent-stabilized tenants forced out—by saying Allen Ginsberg wrote “Elegy” there. You know, the poem otherwise known as “Kaddish.”)

Two poems, a section of Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” because we all feel that way a bit lately, and a poem written very recently by Elissa Chavez (click on her name or the title to learn more about her). But first, here’s a YouTube link: 


from Kaddish 

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.

downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph

the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after—And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing how we suffer—

And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember, prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of Answers—and my own imagination of a withered leaf—at dawn—

Dreaming back thru life, Your time—and mine accelerating toward Apocalypse,

the final moment—the flower burning in the Day—and what comes after,

looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city

a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed—

like a poem in the dark—escaped back to Oblivion—

No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream, trapped in its disappearance,

sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worshipping each other,

worshipping the God included in it all—longing or inevitability?—while it lasts, a Vision—anything more?

It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder, Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shouldering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant—and the sky above—an old blue place.

or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the first poisonous tomatoes of America—frightened on the dock—

then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward Newark—

toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—

Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school, and learning to be mad, in a dream—what is this life?



by Elisa Chavez

Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common cause with us
the way you trample us both,

oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.

But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.








§ One Response to The Story of Jazz

  • Andree Pages says:

    Great column, and love both poems, esp

    “there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
    for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
    and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it”

    And the last two verses are marvels. We can’t give up hope, Margaret. We can’t. We mustn’t.

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